Phil De Luna: Science and innovation advancing the clean economy
Canada has established an early leadership position in three significant science and innovation opportunities: carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), hydrogen production for the industrial sector, and artificial intelligence (AI) for energy application, believes Phil De Luna, program director at the National Research Council (NRC) Canada.
“[All three areas] need serious investment to scale and create impact,” says Dr. De Luna, who is leading a seven-year, $57-million collaborative research program – the Materials for Clean Fuels Challenge Program at the NRC. “Negative-emissions technologies will be absolutely necessary to meet our greenhouse gas reduction goals.”
In order to reduce the often substantial costs of CCUS technology, Dr. De Luna suggests creating a market for carbon utilization and conversion, in which CO2 can be turned into fuels and chemicals using renewable electricity, for example. “Imagine sourcing carbon for sustainable fuels and chemicals from the air rather than from fossil fuels,” he says. “Technology that turns CO2 into valuable products will lower the costs and provide an incentive for capture and storage.”
Clean hydrogen has the potential to decarbonize many of Canada’s hard-to-abate sectors – especially those that cannot be addressed by electrification alone, explains Dr. De Luna. “Today, hydrogen is used for applications like heavy-duty industry, fertilizer production, steelmaking, the chemical industry and natural resource upgrades. Current hydrogen production via steam methane reforming is relatively dirty and results in carbon emissions. If we can use excess renewable capacity to split water with electricity, we can green our sources of hydrogen production [and achieve] major GHG reduction impacts to all downstream processes.”
Dr. De Luna’s mandate is to partner with the world’s best academics and small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) to develop the high-risk, high-reward technologies that will help Canada meet its GHG emission reductions targets.
“My program has three thrusts: carbon conversion, hydrogen production and AI for materials discovery,” he says. “We’re building a brand new national lab in Mississauga – the first ever NRC research presence in the Greater Toronto Area. A large focus of this national lab will be on developing new clean-energy materials and enabling them to move to commercialization.”
Prior to joining NRC as its youngest director ever, Dr. De Luna was a finalist in the Carbon XPRIZE, a $20-million competition focused on impactful carbon capture. This work earned him a place on the 2019 Forbes Top 30 Under 30 energy list.
A reason for hope is the finance community’s increased attention on climate-change risk as a factor in investment decisions, according to Dr. De Luna. “For example, the Task Force for Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) is a framework for companies to start disclosing financial risks due to climate change,” he says. “As of September 2019, over 898 organizations have signed on, including large multi-national organizations in energy, industry and consumer goods. You can’t manage what you don’t measure, and the TCFD provides a way to measure the monetary risk of climate change.”
As key outcomes of the GLOBE 2020 event, Dr. De Luna envisions commitments from more leaders to the TCFD framework and a strong signal to the global community that clean energy has a broad base of support across Canada.
He also looks forward to “tangible partnership opportunities, demonstration or prototyping announcements, investments in clean technologies and inspiration for the next generation of clean energy leaders.”
Janet Drysdale: Rail transportation a part of the climate solution
By shipping heavy freight over long distance by rail instead of truck, customers of CN avoided eight million tonnes of carbon-dioxide emissions in 2018 alone, a number that speaks to the considerable contribution of carbon-efficient transportation to the fight against climate change.
“Every year, we handle over 300 million tonnes of cargo, from the food we eat, the wood to build our homes, the cars we drive, the appliances that make our lives easier, and the energy to power our activities,” says Janet Drysdale, vice-president, Corporate Development and Sustainability at CN. “Many of these goods are being transformed into more sustainable products, and we are moving them in a sustainable way.”
Marking CN’s 100th anniversary, 2019 was a momentous year, she says. “We are inspired by our proud history of nation-building and committed to making a difference towards building a sustainable future today and for the next 100 years.”
Ms. Drysdale, who is leading the company’s carbon and conservation strategies, says, “Because of its environmental and economic advantages, we believe rail is an integral part of the climate change solution. As a mover of the economy and enabler of trade, we are committed to playing a key role in the transition to a lower carbon world.”
She adds that the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals – a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity that is integrated into the World Bank’s Sustainable Mobility for All –provide a unique opportunity to create a better world.
Thomas Mueller: Reducing the environmental impact of buildings
Growing awareness and attention on climate change are inspiring many Canadians to make lifestyle changes to improve their environmental impact. For Thomas Mueller, these measures – whether they relate to dietary or consumer choices, recycling or commuting by bike or public transport – are reasons for hope. What’s more, governments, corporations and other organizations are taking note and stepping up their own sustainability efforts.
As president and CEO of the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC), Mr. Mueller believes that improving the environmental performance of buildings is a key aspect of climate action, since about 17 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse-gas emissions come from residential, commercial, and institutional buildings (a number that goes to up to 30 per cent when construction and materials are factored in).
“We cannot meet Canada’s national carbon reduction targets without steps to reduce emissions from buildings,” he says. “And we’re excited to see cities and industry leaders set ambitious targets for things like improving energy performance and retrofitting existing buildings.“
Sustainable building practices and technologies have seen significant advances over the last decade, and Mr. Mueller believes these solutions can help Canada meet its carbon reduction goals as well as drive socio-economic opportunities, innovation and quality of life.
“Our research shows that zero-carbon buildings are not only technologically feasible – they are also financially viable,” he says. “There is a common perception that sustainable buildings are cost-intensive, but leaders in the real estate sector, for example, report significant positive returns on investment for sustainable and energy-efficient buildings as well as retrofits.”
Among the CaGBC’s key priorities are capacity building and workforce transition, creating a national building benchmarking and disclosure framework, and removing barriers to retrofits. “Our projections show that over 10 years, the retrofit economy could create over 260,000 jobs, save $2-billion in energy costs and add $32.5-billion to the GDP, in addition to a substantial reduction in carbon emissions,” says Mr. Mueller.
The CaGBC calls for leveraging financial supports to de-risk investments in retrofits and introduced the Investor Confidence Project (ICP), a global underwriting standard for developing and measuring energy efficiency retrofits.
“When investment decisions take carbon intensity and climate risks into account, this is going to affect a shift,” says Mr. Mueller, who welcomes a growing focus on climate resilience from the investment community.
Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.